By Henry Stewart
Whatever your position on Roger Ebert — an irrelevant movie reviewer or the avuncular dean of American criticism? — most could agree that he certainly doesn’t deserve a thrashing. "Most," of course, excludes Lou Lumenick, the New York Post‘s chief film critic, who gave him a much-publicized whacking at the Toronto film festival last week when Ebert, rendered mute from thyroid-cancer surgery (among other cancer surgeries), tapped him on the shoulder and motioned for him to move over. The Postman, leaning into the aisle, was blocking Ebert’s view of Slumdog Millionaire‘s subtitles — and the post-surgery Ebert couldn’t twist his neck to see around him.
In response to the shoulder taps, Lumenick responded, "don’t touch me!" twice, loud enough for many in the audience to hear, before turning around to smack Ebert in the knee with what the Daily News, who broke the story, cited as a binder. An anonymous source in the Daily News claims the blow was hard enough to produce an audible sound. Festival personnel had to remove Lou from the theater and give him a time out before letting him back in and putting him in a new seat. (Lumenick later wrote on his blog that he "liked" the film "a lot ", without noting he had missed a piece of it. So much for transparency on the ânet.)
Ol’ Mr. Ebert wrote on his blog that the whole incident embarrasses him as, since the story broke on Thursday evening, many commentators have framed the issue as a bully picking on a feeble cancer patient. Ebert boasts that after the smack he continued to tap Lumenick’s shoulder! And, really, Lumenick is old enough to be in AARP. But lexicondevil, a commenter at The A.V. Club, frames the issue appropriately: "What kind of adult hits people?" The kind that works for the newspaper that put a photo illustration of a pig in lipstick on the front page of its September 11th issue?
As this story broke on 9/11, it might serve as a nice illustration of how constant war (country first! country first!) trickles down to make jittery violencemongers of us all. (Though in fairness, the screening had forced Lumenick to miss a phone call with barely legal crush-object Kat Dennings, no doubt putting him in a foul mood.) But in my experience, film critics can be a thorny bunch. At one of my first preview screenings, I accidentally kicked the seat back of the critic — maybe it was Lumenick? I don’t remember — in front of me, who turned and tried to murder me with his eyes. I was one leg-uncrossing-gone-awry away from being assaulted by rolled up press notes, and I now frequently sit fearfully in screening room front rows. So, Lumenick’s behavior doesn’t exactly shock me.
Nor does it seem to strike him as odd; as of this writing, he has not addressed the issue publicly or offered an apology. The last few days have been business as usual, including panning Righteous Kill. "Seeing [DeNiro and Pacino] work together as a pair of geriatric, trash-talking NYPD detectives," he writes, "is about as exciting as watching them share an early-bird special at the Tribeca Grill." But readers at NYPost.com weren’t so amused.
"You take a very hard line on this movie. Very tough on it," writes ohiogal. "Just like you were very tough with Roger Ebert. Who knows, maybe the movie is really good and you’re just a wacko."
Jimmyjimjam is more direct: "Stop trying to kill crippled people you bas.tard." (Only time will tell if Lumenick, now having tasted Ebert’s blood, can in fact stop.)
But it was near impossible to find out how most Post readers felt. Commentors at The A.V. Club noted that the Post’s boards were vicious, particularly on Lumenick’s movie blog. But, stopping by to see for myself, there was nothing to see. It turns out that the Post had wiped the blog’s comment boards clean, reverting to Web 1.0.
Denying the existence of a scandal seems like a bit of hypocrisy from the gossip-crazy "paper" that publishes Page Six, though I doubt anyone expects better from the Post. At least, for now, the movie reviews on the paper’s main site are still accepting comments, offering a small measure of fun for those who’ll take the time to look for it.
Most of the comments there are about his outburst; I think it’ll be a while before anyone has anything to say to Lumenick about his ideas, sophisticated as they may be. In the meantime, as he struggles to argue "Greetings From the Shore has its moments, but is encumbered by a lengthy subplot," ktime has only two things to say.
"You’re a douche," he writes, adding, "Ebert should have slapped your horse teeth back in your mouth." Despite a few "die already" comments floating around the web, Ebert’s image as America’s Favorite Uncle looks stronger than ever.